1913 - Au Carrefour de la Modernité
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Le Sacre du Printemps (1913) [32:45]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
En blanc et Noir (1915) [14:12]
Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Fantasia Contrappuntistica (1910-21) [28:31]
Jean-Sébastien Dureau and Vincent Planès (Pleyel piano)
rec. 2014, Cité de la musique, Paris
HORTUS 702 [76:40]

Hortus’ Great War series takes a somewhat unusual turning in this release. Its focus is largely on what one should perhaps call radical modernity in the period immediately before the outbreak of the war and therefore Stravinsky and Busoni are heavily represented. The performances, moreover, add their own radicalism, since they’re performed by the team of Jean-Sébastien Dureau and Vincent Planès either on a single Pleyel, four hands – in the case of The Rite of Spring – or on two pianos.

The Pleyel double piano was invented in 1898 by Gustave Lyon, the head of the company. It’s a grand piano with a double keyboard and proved eminently popular. The particular model on which Dureau and Planès play dates from a somewhat later time period (1928) and is part of the collection in the Musée de la Musique in Paris.

The notes are silent on the subject of the edition used because as many will know the first published score was the four-hand piano arrangement (Edition Russe de Musique, RV196), dated 1913. A 1967 version incorporating the 1929 revisions was published by Boosey & Hawkes and later still the Paul Sacher foundation published its own revision of the piano four-hands reduction. In the clear, rather cool acoustic of the Cité de la musique, Paris, Dureau and Planès clarify and delineate the rhythms with great accuracy and power. They revel in the music’s barbarity and also in its dance drama in a way fully equal to other intrepid duos in the music – such as York2, the team of Fiona and John York on Nimbus NI5866, for instance. That Nimbus disc places The Rite in the context of La Mer and Rapsodie espagnole. Hortus however takes a work genuinely composed during the War, Debussy’s En Blanc et Noir to fulfil part of its brief for wartime works. Once again the French players prove exemplary interpreters, sombre and thoughtful or virtuosically kinetic as required. For the challenges of Busoni’s Fantasia Contrappuntistica, originally written in 1910 but heard here in the two-piano version of 1921, they bring a similarly wide-ranging surety of ensemble and tonal sophistication. The Bach-derived cells are drawn out with indomitable esprit and technical accomplishment operates at a high level, not least in the contrapuntal and colouristic demands – to say nothing of the sometimes unremitting virtuosity. Only the somewhat shallow, dryish acoustic limits total pleasure.

Other than that, and acknowledging that the booklet note is uncharacteristically skimpy, this disc sheds valuable light on modernity as channelled via the piano.

Jonathan Woolf
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